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Martin v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 18, 2017

CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is Plaintiff Sherard Martin's (“Martin”) motion for attorneys' fees and costs. (R. 103.) Defendants the City of Chicago (the “City”) and Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) Officers Davis Marinez, Sofia Gonzalez (Arellano), [1] Armando Chagoya, and Elvis Turcinovic (collectively, “Defendants”) oppose the motion. (R. 106-1, 109.) The Court denies Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs.


         The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the proceedings thus far. On May 24, 2015, Martin commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging false arrest (Count I), unlawful search (Count II), and indemnification under state law against the City (Count III). (R. 1.) Before the Court granted summary judgment in part to Defendants, Martin sought $65, 000 in damages for his incarceration and $45, 500 in lost business income in relation to his automobile dealership. (See R. 38, Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 15; R. 47, Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 15.)

         Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on August 23, 2016, arguing that Martin “c[ould] not proceed on any claims related to the Defendant Officers' conduct after their discovery of the contraband, ” which supplied the officers with probable cause. (R. 37, Opening Br., 2, 8-9.) Defendants conceded that Martin “c[ould] . . . proceed on his claim related to his brief detention on [the] scene before the handgun and drugs were found, the search of his person, and the search of his vehicle.” (Id. at 9.) The Court agreed with Defendants in its January 2017 opinion. (R. 56 at 4-5.) In granting Defendants' partial summary judgment, the Court made clear that “Martin's Section 1983 case may proceed as to the initial stop and search of his person and car on May 24, 2013-before Defendants' discovery of the illegal firearm and crack cocaine.” (Id. at 16.) Martin also had a false arrest claim based on his detention until Defendants found the firearm. (Id.)

         Trial commenced on July 14, 2017 and the jury began deliberating on July 17, 2017, the second day of trial. (R. 92; R. 95.) On July 18, 2017, the jury returned its verdict. (R. 98.) The jury found for Defendants on Claim II (unlawful search) and Claim III (false arrest). (Id.) On Claim I (unlawful seizure), the jury found for Defendants Chagoya and Turcinovic, but found for Plaintiff with respect to Defendants Marinez and Gonzalez. (Id.) The jury awarded Martin $1 in nominal damages and no punitive damages. (Id.) The jury's damages finding reflected the jury instruction that “[i]f you find in favor of Plaintiff but find that the plaintiff has failed to prove compensatory damages, you must return a verdict for Plaintiff in the amount of one dollar ($1.00).” (R. 97 at 28); see Pattern Civil Jury Instructions of the Seventh Circuit 7.23 (2015).

         Plaintiff now moves for attorneys' fees and costs. (R. 103.) He seeks $79, 048 in total based on Stephen L. Richards working 69.4 hours at an $826 per-hour rate and Joshua S.M. Richards 51.6 hours at a $421 per-hour rate. (Id.) While Plaintiff does not mention costs in his brief, it appears he requests $1, 537.20 in costs resulting from depositions and filing fees. (R. 103-2.)


         I. Attorney's Fees

         The prevailing party in a § 1983 action may recover reasonable attorneys' fees. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b); see Baker v. Lindgren, 856 F.3d 498, 503 (7th Cir. 2017). Generally, “[t]he appropriate fee under § 1988 is the market rate for the legal services reasonably devoted to the successful portion of the litigation.” Richardson v. City of Chicago, 740 F.3d 1099, 1103 (7th Cir. 2014). Where, as in this case, a jury awards nominal damages, the plaintiff is a “prevailing party” under § 1988. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 112 (1992); see also Aponte v. City of Chicago, 728 F.3d 724, 726 (7th Cir. 2013). Nevertheless, “a reasonable attorney's fee for a nominal victor is usually zero.” Aponte, 728 F.3d at 727; see also Farrar, 506 U.S. at 115 (“When a plaintiff recovers only nominal damages because of his failure to prove an essential element of his claim for monetary relief, the only reasonable fee is usually no fee at all.”).

         The Seventh Circuit follows a three-part test from Justice O'Connor's concurrence[2] in Farrar “when assessing fee awards to trifling victories.” Aponte, 728 F.3d at 727. Courts consider “(1) the difference between the amount recovered and the damages sought, (2) the significance of the issue on which the plaintiff prevailed relative to the issues litigated, and (3) whether the case accomplished some public goal.” The Seventh Circuit reviews a district court's application of the Farrar test for abuse of discretion. Aponte, 728 F.3d at 731; see also Briggs v. Marshall, 93 F.3d 355, 361 (7th Cir. 1996). In Cartwright v. Stamper, the plaintiffs were only awarded a nominal one dollar for each of their claims, and yet they petitioned for over $110, 000 in fees and expenses. 7 F.3d 106, 108 (7th Cir. 1993). The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's award of some $52, 000, finding that the court “should have summarily denied the petition for fees.” Id. at 110. See also Maul v. Constan, 23 F.3d 143, 147 (7th Cir. 1994) (“Having weighed the Farrar factors, we hold that the district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney's fees to Maul: the difference between the judgment sought and obtained was great and the public purpose of the litigation was minimal. Since plaintiff's victory was de minimis, an award of attorney's fees was inappropriate.”).

         II. Costs

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides that “costs-other than attorney's fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1); see also Richardson, 740 F.3d at 1102 (“Rule 54 entitles prevailing parties to recover their costs”); Goldberg v. 401 N. Wabash Venture LLC, 2013 WL 4506071, *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 23, 2013). “The list of recoverable costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1920, includes: (1) fees of the clerk and marshal, (2) fees for transcripts, (3) witness fees and expenses, (4) fees for copies of papers necessarily obtained for use in the case, (5) docket fees under 28 U.S.C. § 1923, and (6) compensation for court-appointed experts and interpreters.” Thompson v. Vill. of Monee, 2016 WL 128005, *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 12, 2016), appeal dismissed (Feb. 26, 2016) (referencing U.S. Neurosurgical, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 572 F.3d 325, 333 (7th Cir. 2009); Republic Tobacco Co. v. North Atl. Trading Co., Inc., 481 F.3d 442, 447 (7th Cir. 2007)); see also Harney v. City of Chicago, 702 F.3d 916, 927 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Rule 54(d)(1) “creates a presumption in favor of awarding costs to the prevailing party, ” Myrick v. WellPoint, Inc.,764 F.3d 662, 666 (7th Cir. 2014), but gives “the district judge discretion to decide whether an award of costs is appropriate.” Chesemore v. Fenkell,829 F.3d 803, 816 (7th Cir. 2016). See also U.S. Neurosurgical, 572 F.3d at 333; Rivera v. City of Chicago, 469 F.3d 631, 634 (7th Cir. 2006) (Rule 54(d)(1) “provides a presumption that the losing party will pay costs but grants the court discretion to direct otherwise.”). Taxing costs against the non-prevailing party requires two inquiries-whether the cost is recoverable and whether the amount assessed is reasonable. See U.S. Neurosurgical, 572 F.3d at 333; Little v. Mitsubishi Motors N. Am., Inc., 514 F.3d 699, 702 (7th Cir. 2008) (per curiam). “Any party ...

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